Ex-PM Khan’s party says facing crackdown in stronghold province ahead of Pakistan elections

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party's worker convention in Dir district of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on November 25, 2023. (Photo courtesy: @PTIofficial/X)
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Updated 28 November 2023
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Ex-PM Khan’s party says facing crackdown in stronghold province ahead of Pakistan elections

  • Police confirm clashes with PTI ahead of political convention last week, cases filed against hundreds of supporters
  • Caretaker government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province says “no ban on any political party to hold rallies”

DIR LOWER: The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan has said it is facing a crackdown in its stronghold province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ahead of general elections scheduled in February, with police confirming clashes at a recent political convention and the subsequent arrests of dozens of PTI supporters.

The party says the crackdown in the northwestern province is part of a wider clampdown that began after May 9, when Khan supporters took to the streets in nationwide protests, ransacking military installations and government and private properties following the ex-PM’s brief arrest by an anti-corruption agency. Pakistan’s army and the then government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif responded fiercely, accusing Khan’s supporters of terrorism and vowing to punish the alleged perpetrators, including through trials in army courts. 

Thousands of PTI supporters, including top party leaders, were subsequently arrested and many remain in jail. A legion of senior PTI leaders also abruptly announced they were quitting the party or leaving politics, which they were widely believed to have done under pressure from the military establishment, which denies interfering in politics.

Khan himself has been embroiled in a tangle of political and legal battles since he was ousted as prime minister in April last year in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence. He has not been seen in public since he was jailed for three years in August for not declaring assets earned from the sale of state gifts during his tenure in office from 2018 to 2022.

Khan says the cases are politically motivated and part of a larger plan to keep him and the PTI out of elections. As things stands, Khan, as a convict, is barred from contesting any elections under Pakistani law.

But the PTI, like other political parties, has started election activities though it alleges it is being kept from holding corner meetings and political conventions, especially in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the party ruled from 2013-23.

On November 25, a clash was reported between police and PTI supporters on their way to attend a workers convention in Wari, a union council in Upper Dir.

“PTI supporters were adamant to attend the workers convention and the police were not allowing them, which resulted in the clash,” General Secretary of the PTI in Upper Dir, Imran Saeed, told Arab News, adding that policemen were stationed at checkpoints across Dir Upper and Dir Lower to stop people from reaching the venue of the convention in the village of a former member of the national assembly, Sahibzada Sibghat Ullah.

Saeed said two PTI members were injured in the clash and dozens were arrested by the police.

Waqar Ahmed Khan, the district police office in Dir Upper, confirmed the arrests and clashes and said a police case had been filed against 188 people for violating a ban on public gatherings imposed this month under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure CrPC, which empowers district administrations to issue orders in the public interest that may place a ban on an activity for a specific period of time. Such a ban is enforced by the police who register cases under section 188 of the Pakistan Penal Code for violations of the ban.

The district police officer said 74 people had been arrested and nine police reports filed, while three civilians and three policemen were injured in the clashes. Among those charged in the police reports are former MPA Fazal Hakeem from Swat, former MPA Liaqat Ali Khan from Dir Lower, former MNA Gul Zafar Khan from Bajaur, Khan’s lawyer Muhammad Afzal Marwat and former MNA Junaid Akbar from Malakand.

In Swat, another district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, police said 36 people had been arrested and cases had been filed against more than 2,400 people for violating Section 144 on Nov. 26.

“NOT A GOOD THING FOR DEMOCRACY“

While the PTI says its political activities are being disrupted and its supporters intimidated through arrests, other political parties have been campaigning freely in the province.
 
The Pakistan Peoples Party held a workers’ convention and the party’s chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, addressed a large public gathering in Dir Upper on Nov. 21. The Pakistan Tehreek Insaf Parliamentarian party organized a rally in Lower Dir on Nov. 24 while the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F held a rally in Peshawar, the provincial capital, on Nov. 17.

Irfan Saleem, the Deputy Secretary of Information PTI-KP, said it was “unfair” that his party’s political activities were being blocked under the “pretext” of Section 144 while other political parties were free to carry on with their campaigns.

“Leaders and workers from the PTI were arrested in Dir Upper, Lower Dir and in Swat on the pretext of violating Section 144,” he told Arab News. “We want free and fair elections and that the voice of the public is heard.”

“We will use the rights given to us by the constitution and we will conduct peaceful rallies,” he added.

Feroz Jamal Kakakhel, the caretaker Information Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, denied that the PTI was being blocked from campaigning, saying Section 144 had been imposed in view of rising militant attacks in the province in recent months.

“There is no ban on any political party to hold political rallies,” he said. “There is a law-and-order situation in the province and the district administration has imposed section 144 in the larger public interest.”

But independent political analysts warned about the legitimacy of an election in which the PTI was not allowed a “level playing field” and fair competition.

 “To stop only one political party from conducting political rallies is not a good thing for democracy,” analyst and journalist Tariq Waheen said, “and will have bad consequences for the upcoming polls.”


Pakistan’s PM criticizes Imran Khan’s ‘irresponsible’ demand for election audit in IMF bailout letter

Updated 12 sec ago
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Pakistan’s PM criticizes Imran Khan’s ‘irresponsible’ demand for election audit in IMF bailout letter

  • Prime Minister Kakar says there are proper forums in the country for the redressal of any election grievances
  • He says the letter has contradicted PTI’s own narrative that maintains Pakistan should not ‘surrender’ to the West

ISLAMABAD: Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar on Wednesday described Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party’s decision to send a letter to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), asking it to ensure election audit before any discussion on financial bailouts for the country, as “highly irresponsible” and in contradiction to its overall political narrative.

Last week, a group of lawyers representing the PTI founding leader, Imran Khan, said he wanted to send a letter to the IMF after raising the allegations of rigging in the recent general elections in the country earlier this month.

The party revealed on Wednesday it had dispatched the letter to the international lending organization, asking it to link any financing for Pakistan to “good governance” and the audit of at least 30 national and provincial assembly seats.

Kakar expressed his displeasure over the development during an interview with a local news channel.

“This is highly irresponsible,” he told Samaa TV. “And I am making a very mild statement. Otherwise, one can use much harsher words in response to this.”

“In the caretaker government, the biggest challenge we faced was not only conducting elections but also to the revival of the economy, improvement in financial indicators and achieving our revenue targets,” he continued. “To an extent, we have met [all these objectives]. As a result, the IMF is negotiating with Pakistan positively.”

He said the country was now expecting a $6 billion deal with the international lender and could also get $2 billion more in climate finance deal.

The prime minister noted this was vital for the country’s economic health, adding that the financial plans of the future government also depended heavily on this.

“Whatever your views are regarding the electoral process, there are proper forums to express them,” he continued. “They are not the IMF.”

Kakar said the PTI leadership’s letter had also contradicted its own narrative which required the country not to “surrender” to Western power.

He maintained that Khan’s party had gone against that by seeking external intervention in the country.

However, predicted the letter would not have any major impact on Pakistan, though it would have a political cost for the PTI.

The IMF already refused to comment on the “ongoing political developments” in the country, saying it was willing to work with the new government.


Pakistani security forces kill six militants in intelligence-based operation in northwest

Updated 29 February 2024
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Pakistani security forces kill six militants in intelligence-based operation in northwest

  • An official statement says the militants were involved in violent activities against North Waziristan’s residents
  • The Pakistani security forces also recovered weapons, ammunition and explosives from the dead militants

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s security forces killed six militants in an intelligence-based operation (IBO) in the country’s northwest on Wednesday, saying they were involved in violent activities against the civilian population in the area.

Pakistan has witnessed an uptick in militant activities since Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a proscribed conglomerate of armed factions, called off a fragile ceasefire with the government in November 2022.

The violence has largely been confined to the western provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan that share frontier with the neighboring state of Afghanistan.

The country’s security forces and law enforcement agencies have carried out several operations in recent months to deal with militants in places like North Waziristan where the recent engagement with the militants took place.

“During the conduct of operation, intense fire exchange took place between own troops and the terrorists,” the military’s media wing, ISPR, said in a statement, adding that this led to the killing of six militants.

“Weapons, ammunition and explosives were also recovered from the killed terrorists, who remained actively involved in numerous terrorist activities including target killing as well as extortion & abduction of innocent civilians,” it added.

The ISPR said one of the Pakistani soldiers who participated in the operation also got injured.

It informed the Pakistani forces started a “sanitization operation” to find other militants who might have taken refuge in the area.

Pakistan’s North Waziristan district was once described as the hub of militancy before the government launched a clear-and-hold military operation to reclaim the territory.


US urges new Pakistan government to prioritize economy, continue working with IMF on reforms 

Updated 29 February 2024
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US urges new Pakistan government to prioritize economy, continue working with IMF on reforms 

  • The US says it supports Pakistan’s efforts to break free from the vicious cycle of debt and international financing
  • Analysts believe government will have to negotiate another IMF loan program amid continuing economic challenges

ISLAMABAD: The United States said on Wednesday Pakistan’s new government should address the economic situation facing the country on priority, emphasizing it was important for the emerging administration in Islamabad to continue engagements with international financial institutions.

Pakistan is holding the first National Assembly today, Thursday, in which the newly elected lawmakers will take oath. The country’s new government is expected to take the reins of power within the next few days after the in-house election of the next prime minister.

The issue of Pakistan’s economy came up for discussion during a regular State Department briefing after a journalist asked about a letter written by former premier Imran Khan’s party to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), asking it to link the next loan facility to “good governance” in the country.

“I’ll just say with respect to the IMF that we support Pakistan’s efforts to break free from the vicious cycle of debt and international financing,” Spokesperson Matthew Miller said. “The long-term health of Pakistan’s government – or economy is crucial to its stability.”

“Pakistan’s new government must immediately prioritize the economic situation because the policies over the next several months will be crucial to maintaining economic stability for Pakistanis,” he added. “And we urge Pakistan to continue working with the IMF and other international financial institutions toward macroeconomic reforms.”

Pakistan has been facing significant financial challenges in recent years, with dwindling foreign exchange reserves and declining value of its national currency.

The country’s caretaker administration negotiated a $3 billion, short-term loan facility with the IMF that is scheduled to expire in March.

Pakistan’s economic challenges persist, prompting many analysts to point out it will continue to need external financing from the international lending agency.
 


Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes as Imran Khan-backed MNAs protest vote result

Updated 21 min 42 sec ago
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Pakistan’s National Assembly convenes as Imran Khan-backed MNAs protest vote result

  • PML-N’s 79 and PPP’s 54 seats together make a simple majority in parliament to form a government
  • Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf won 93 seats but does not have the numbers to form a government

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s National Assembly convened for its first session on Thursday, with opposition lawmakers continuing to protest the results of a general election on Feb. 8 that has been widely marred by allegations of rigging. 

The agreement between Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of three-time Premier Nawaz Sharif on Feb. 20 ended days of uncertainty and negotiations after an inconclusive election threw up a hung National Assembly. 

PML-N’s 79 and the PPP’s 54 seats together make a simple majority in parliament to form a government, and they have also roped in smaller parties in the coalition. Candidates backed by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won 93 seats, but do not have the numbers to form a government. He and his party have rejected the results of the elections, alleging widespread rigging, which the election commission has denied.

Thursday’s session started with ruckus as soon as the national anthem ended and Khan-backed lawmakers, who have joined the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), surrounded the speaker’s podium.

“Who will save Pakistan? Imran Khan! Imran Khan!” PTI lawmakers chanted after the oath taking and as newly elected MNAs signed the NA register roll. 

The coalition alliance has announced Shehbaz Sharif, the brother of three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, as its PM candidate. Shehbaz is himself a former premier and replaced Khan when he was ousted through a no-confidence vote in parliament in 2022. Since then, Khan has been convicted of several offenses in what his supporters call politically motivated moves to keep him out of office. 

The coalition alliance is backing former President Asif Ali Zardari of the PPP as their joint candidate for president when the new parliament and all the four provincial legislatures elect the successor of the outgoing President Arif Ali, a close Khan ally, in the coming weeks.

Shehbaz will take over the country at the time when the new government would need to take tough decisions to steer the country out of financial crisis, including negotiating a new bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund/ The current IMF program expires in March. A new program will mean committing to steps needed to stay on a narrow path to recovery, but which will limit policy options to provide relief to a deeply frustrated population and cater to industries that are looking for government support to spur growth.

Other big moves include privatization of loss-making state owned enterprises such as the flagship carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

Pakistan is also facing a troubling rise in militancy, which any new government will have to tackle. Lowering political temperatures will also be a key challenge as Khan maintains mass popular support in Pakistan, and a continued crackdown on his party and his remaining in jail would likely stoke tensions at a time when stability is needed to attract foreign investment to shore up the economy.


Two Pakistanis charged over calls for Dutch far-right leader’s killing

Updated 29 February 2024
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Two Pakistanis charged over calls for Dutch far-right leader’s killing

  • The Netherlands and Pakistan do not have an extradition treaty, leaving prospects for a trial unclear
  • A Dutch court says the Pakistanis were suspected of publicly calling on people to kill Geert Wilders

AMSTERDAM: A Dutch court said it had charged two Pakistani nationals on Wednesday over public calls for the murder of far-right anti-Muslim leader Geert Wilders, who aims to lead a new government after his party won elections in November.

In a statement on Wednesday, the court said prosecutors had asked authorities in Pakistan to extradite the two suspects – aged 55 and 29 – to stand trial in the Netherlands.

It said the two Pakistanis were suspected of publicly calling on people to kill Wilders and promising them a reward in the afterlife if they did so. It did not say how those calls were made.

In September, a Dutch court sentenced a Pakistani former cricketer to 12 years in prison after he was tried in absentia for publicly urging people to kill Wilders.

“I hope they (two suspects) will be extradited, convicted and jailed!” Wilders wrote in a post on X.

The court scheduled its first hearing on the case for Sept. 2. The Netherlands and Pakistan do not have an extradition treaty, leaving prospects for a trial unclear.